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Use this checklist to buy your first car

You’ll never forget your first time when it comes to getting your own set of wheels. Improve your odds of making a good choice by using this checklist.

Since buying your first vehicle may be your first big-ticket purchase, don’t just be swayed by glossy brochures or the gleaming speedsters you see advertised on TV.

This easy checklist covers each step of your purchasing decision, and what to consider when selecting a new set of wheels.

  1. Identify your needs. Focus on why you want a vehicle. Will you just drive around the city or will you do a daily highway commute? Will you be on the road every day or just on weekends? Will you have regular passengers? Does your lifestyle call for cargo room? The answers will help narrow your selection to the types of vehicles most suited to you.
  2. Learn everything you can. When you’ve narrowed your choices, research online resources to gather details on particular makes and models, safety records and handling characteristics. Manufacturers’ websites do a good job of showing available options and can give a ballpark figure on costs. For both new and used vehicles, look for reviews and independent research on third-party websites, including automotive resources on
  3. Get your finances in order. Before you start kicking tires, get your finances lined up. Unless you have cash, you’ll likely need a car loan, and your bank can help you determine what you can afford. There are many kinds of loans with different repayment terms (such as five or seven years). Your bank can help you calculate how much you’re eligible for and at what interest, the size of your monthly payments and how long it will take to pay it off. Once you know your limits, you can define your search even more.
  4. Calculate operating costs. Between fuel, parking and regular maintenance, a car can be a money pit on wheels. Before you commit to a purchase, figure out the monthly costs of owning and operating a car, on top of loan payments.
  5. Get advance quotes on insurance. Even before you buy, you can get an idea of insurance costs on certain makes and models by requesting a quote online. Your insurance premium will vary depending on your driving record, where you live and the make and model of car. If you’re a member of an alumni or professional association, you may be eligible for a discounted rate, so ask the insurer about this.
  6. Find a seller you trust. Whether you buy from a dealer or a private seller, check references and have used cars inspected. Ask friends and family for a referral to a dealership they trust. If you feel you are being pressured by any seller, walk away. Remember, there’s no cooling off period when you buy a new car: once the contract is signed, it’s yours.
  7. Hunt for deals. If you’ve got your heart set on a particular new model, check the manufacturer and dealer websites for any incentives or special promotions. For example, some may offer discounts to students or recent graduates.
  8. Try before you buy. Test drive more than one vehicle to get a good comparison of how they handle in the kinds of conditions you expect to encounter.
  9. Load up on any extras. If you have room left in your budget, consider indulging in your “wants”, whether this means a special-order paint job, a dashboard gadget or heated seats. While this costs more, your car will feel more personalized — and you’ll likely take better care of it.
  10. Read the fine print. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you understand any extra costs or conditions of the sale, like delivery charges.